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Updated Apr 01, 2024

How to Identify a True Leader

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Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership

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The success of a business lies in the hands of its leaders. The culture of a business is first established in the workplace, and leaders set the tone. Businesses will crumble under leaders with unattainable goals, a lack of vision, broken communication or big egos. When you have  the right leaders, businesses will soar. With so much on the line, it is critical to be able to identify top leaders.

How to identify a true leader

While you can always hire an external candidate to lead your team, developing your current employees into your business leaders of tomorrow is wise. Here are five steps to identify a true leader in your organization.

1. Observe their character and work ethic.

Before deciding if someone is fit for a leadership role, you must determine what you want in a leader. You need to know what characteristics and work ethic you want your company leaders to have. From that point, you can begin to observe which of those qualities you see in the workplace and seek out potential leaders. [Read related article: Popular Management Theories Decoded]

True leaders are the ones driving results. They intentionally learn more, challenge themselves and others, improve the workplace environment and work ethics, and encourage teams to achieve goals.

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2. Provide opportunities in the workplace for leadership skills to emerge.

One of the most accurate ways to test a person’s leadership skills is to put them in a leadership role. This could include mentoring and coaching, or even allowing them to experience a higher position. Having them try new experiences in different roles allows you to gauge how they go about learning, if they have a growth mindset, and whether they do well under pressure and with additional responsibilities.

FYIDid you know

True leaders seek to improve themselves and their work ethics. They accept challenges as opportunities to grow, and are eager to learn new skills.

3. Ask around.

The people who have worked side by side with potential leaders will have great insights into their skills and impact on the business. Interviewing co-workers gives you additional feedback on whether an employee has the personality and leadership style you’re looking for.

Interviewing previous managers or mentors of potential leaders also helps determine whether this person is a good leader. They are in a unique position because not only do they have leadership experience, but they also have experience with the potential leader.

4. Use predictive assessment tools and personality assessments.

Assessment tools vary in terms of what they examine and the depth of the questions they ask. You can choose from personality, leadership skills and behavioral assessments. Before you decide on a tool, ensure it will test for the specific skills you want in a leader.

Here are a few assessment tools you can use:

  • The Predictive Index assessment tool evaluates individual workplace behavioral traits and cognitive abilities to aid in making informed talent management decisions.
  • The CPI 260 is a well-established personality assessment tool that provides a comprehensive understanding of an individual’s personality traits, leadership potential and areas for development.
  • NERIS Type Explorer determines personality type and shows optimal roles (careers and hobbies) and strategies (ways of achieving goals) for each.
  • CliftonStrengths Assessment provides insights into an individual’s strengths in terms of executing, influencing, relationship building and strategic thinking.

5. Search for evidence of emotional intelligence.

One of the most essential qualities a leader can have is emotional intelligence. At its heart, emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to authentically be themselves and put their character on full display. This helps them address emotionally charged matters at work. While it might be easier to ignore the drama, doing so can lead to future problems.

People with high emotional intelligence are highly self-aware and intrinsically motivated to do the right thing. They can carefully assess a situation from all sides, and then clearly communicate their feelings or points in a calm and collected manner. These traits are essential for leadership, as they can help with people management and conflict resolution.

Leadership skills you should be testing for

Here are some leadership skills you should keep testing for in yourself and your employees and candidates.

  • Communication skills: One of the most essential responsibilities of a leader is to relay information effectively to employees, senior management and the public. An organization can only accomplish its mission if the correct information is transmitted to the right people.
Did You Know?Did you know

In today’s era of increased hybrid and remote work, ensuring leaders have strong communication skills is more critical than ever. Leaders need to make sure their message can get across to someone who isn’t necessarily working right down the hall.

  • Relationship building: Leaders must have the ability to foster relationships with their employees and among clients. Good relations inspire a team to be more productive. Employees are more willing to go the extra mile for an organization that appreciates them. Clients are loyal to companies that they have built a relationship with and that make them feel valued. [Read related article: Your Employees Feel Underappreciated — Here’s What You Can Do to Fix It]
  • Time management: Leaders are responsible for ensuring the organization derives value from the time allocated to accomplish business tasks. A leader must make sure team members clock in to work at the right time and accomplish the tasks they are required to do within that time.
  • Adaptability: Leaders must be adaptable in today’s rapidly changing business landscape. They should be able to pivot, make quick decisions, and effectively lead their teams through change.
  • Trustworthiness: Leaders must build trust with their employees. This can be achieved by being honest and working with integrity. When employees trust their leaders, they engage with them more freely and give necessary feedback without fear of being victimized.
  • Confidence: Leaders must be confident in their decisions. This inspires trust in others and helps leaders to present themselves and their company well. Confidence also speaks to a person’s decisiveness. Leadership often involves making difficult and important decisions.
  • Problem-solving: Every leader must know how to solve employee or company-related problems, because they will arise frequently. Companies solve problems for consumers, but they must also be able to solve their internal problems. When an employee comes to a leader with an issue, a leader should be able to help them solve it in a way that benefits both the employee and the organization.

Although you want your company leaders to possess these traits, it’s important not to immediately write a potential leader off if they are lacking in one or two areas. Instead, look for ways to help that employee grow and develop their weaker skills. Empowering your employees to grow with your organization is a great way to build your company’s future leaders.

Additionally, an important part of identifying and developing leaders is to create a plan for employee progression within your business. Succession planning ensures a smooth transition when your current leaders are ready to retire or move on.

Skye Schooley contributed to this article.

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Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Sean Peek has written more than 100 B2B-focused articles on various subjects including business technology, marketing and business finance. In addition to researching trends, reviewing products and writing articles that help small business owners, Sean runs a content marketing agency that creates high-quality editorial content for both B2B and B2C businesses.
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